Crack a Crab for Lean Protein and More

CRAB cakesSome people see crab the same way they do white pants: a summertime fancy to be enjoyed from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Me? I fancy the crustacean all year long because it’s simply too nutritious and too delicious to do otherwise.

Gloriously low in fat and calories, crab is an excellent lean protein source. A 3-oz. cooked serving (about ¾ cup) has only 90 calories, 1 gram of fat, scant carbs, and 20 grams of complete protein.

Slow-to-digest protein keeps us sated longer, is essential for building and repairing tissue, and is also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

Eating too little protein, in fact, can make us feel sluggish, irritable, and weak. What’s more, not consuming enough protein can make the struggle to lose weight even harder.

Crab rocks with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals — from iron to zinc, niacin to selenium — but it’s biggest claim to nutrient fame is its vitamin B12 content: nearly 150 percent of our daily needs in an average serving.

Vitamin B12 lies at the core of our body’s ability to make DNA for new cells, form healthy red blood cells, maintain sound nerves, and turn the food we eat into energy. Furthermore, vitamin B12 may help protect against brain volume loss in the elderly, according to researchers from the University of Oxford.

Looking to boost your heart-healthy omega-3s? Much like other shellfish, crabs deliver. While no omega-3 superstar (like salmon), an average serving of crab has about 400 mg, which many deem an adequate daily amount for most. A diet rich in omega-3s may help to prevent heart disease and stroke, lower inflammation, and improve cognitive function.

Because crabs come from the salty sea, they do have sodium, from around 300 to 900 mg per 3-oz. serving, depending upon which kind of crab you eat (Alaskan King has the most; Blue, the least). Since too much sodium can increase your risk of stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease, you’ll want to monitor your intake and skip the extra salt and salty butter.

Crabs also serve up about 60 mg of cholesterol per 3-oz. portion, which may or may not concern you. Although my cholesterol runs high, I’m less concerned about dietary cholesterol these days because numerous studies — including one from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — claim that, for many, the biggest influence on blood cholesterol is the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet, not the amount of cholesterol in your food.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Rémoulade

Adapted from Cooking Light; serves 4

Crab cakes:

2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions (or 2 garlic cloves, minced)

½ Fresno pepper, seeded, finely chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons canola-based mayonnaise

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

½ teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

8 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil


½ cup canola-based mayonnaise

1 ½ tablespoons chopped shallots

2-3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Combine 1/3 cup panko and next 11 ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl, stirring well. Add crab; stir gently just until combined. Shape crab mixture into 4 equal balls. Gently flatten balls to form 4 (4-inch) patties. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place remaining 1/3 cup panko in a shallow dish. Coat cakes with panko.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Serve with lemon wedges or spicy rémoulade.To prepare rémoulade, whisk ingredients together in a small bowl.

Helpful Tips

When buying fresh, choose crabs that feel heavy for their size, move when you touch them, smell briny-fresh, and look bright and clean. Cooked crab in the shell should smell fresh, with no trace of “fishy” odor. Crab meat sold outside the shell is available fresh-cooked, frozen, and canned. It’s best to cook and eat live crabs the same day they are purchased. Fresh-cooked crabmeat will keep for two days, refrigerated. Canned crab is often imported from Asia and tends to have more sodium than fresh and frozen crab.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at